Career Clinic

This week Professor John Howson answers questions about fear of responsibility and NQT pool interviews

Professor John Howson


I am 10 years into teaching. The thing is, I no longer know what my career goal is. Part of me doesn't want responsibility, but another part of me knows that I work too hard not to be in a position of responsibility. I feel quite confused; everyone seems to be moving onwards and upwards.

You have reached a point in your career where you need to assess the future. From what you say, you are uncertain about how to progress a career that could potentially last for another 30 years now that the retirement age is rising to 65 and beyond.

Do you enjoy the responsibility of leadership, or do you want to try to find a route that allows you to develop your teaching further, but without the need to manage a group of staff? Perhaps pastoral-type posts might be attractive, but such posts also imply leadership of a team.

In the end, career progression is mostly geared towards leadership responsibilities, and remaining as a classroom teacher inevitably puts you at the end of decisions made by others with whom you may not agree. The various attempts to create career paths for those primarily interested in teaching and learning, such as the advanced skills teacher (AST) and excellent teacher (ET) grades, have generally stalled because schools have refused to spend the money on the salaries associated with these posts.

There are other alternatives, such as working with trainee teachers and on professional development activities, but such opportunities are few and far between at the present time, although that may change in the future.

You probably need to talk this through with someone who can help to assess whether you have the capacity for leadership and are just scared of taking the plunge, or should be thinking about other routes for career development.

Current affairs

I am a trainee primary teacher with an interview for an NQT pool. I'm preparing answers for potential interview questions, and am interested in what a good answer would be to the following question: "What is a current educational issue that you are aware of that has had an impact on your teaching?"

I guess it doesn't really matter what issue you pick, but what matters is having a credible story to tell. Perhaps, for example, the lack of computer skills in children you were teaching during a placement led you to dig out Logo and get the class to do some simple logic programming to get the turtle to move around the screen (or, if you have an electronic one, the floor). See Michael Gove's speech to the BETT educational technology show in January if you don't understand the issue I am talking about.

Or perhaps you noticed during your first visit to a school that boys were more restless when you were reading the class a story than girls were, and wondered why and what could be done to involve them more.

Realistically, all questions at interviews are hard. They are designed to test your understanding of the role a teacher plays. Whether interviews alone are the best basis for selecting teachers is another issue. I suspect the selection procedure for your teacher training course was more rigorous than the pool interview will be.

What you should be aware of is the need to give genuine answers. Sometimes, that will mean saying, "I don't know the answer, but I think we are covering this next term," if that is appropriate. Learning prepared answers parrot-fashion will just trip you up when you cannot handle the follow-up question.

I am sure that the panel will be looking for an awareness of current issues that can readily come from reading TES each week, and the ability to relate those issues to the practicalities of teaching in the classroom.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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Professor John Howson

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